An Offer Too Good to be True
A young girl is given a job offer that seems too good to be true. It is. She ends up exploited. She is rescued, and placed in an emergency aftercare shelter. This story has become a familiar one. All around the world, people have been and are being educated about human trafficking. Stories of victims and their victimization, especially sex trafficking victims, have become commonplace in some circles. We celebrate the rescue, and cheer in our hearts when the victim is handed over to an aftercare facility. The story, however, doesn't stop there. As Kristina Misiniene pointed out last week, many of the same conditions that existed prior to their trafficking, including poverty, are still present even after their aftercare.
Consider the story of the survivor from last week. She is still poor and still trapped in a bad situation with her children and an absent boyfriend. The reason she was desperate enough to take the job offer that resulted in her exploitation was because of her poverty. What has changed? She is still stuck in a cycle. It may not lead to her being re-trafficked. We hope and pray that it would not. But that does not mean she is not open to other forms of exploitation or victimization. But if aftercare is going to take years, is it possible to really help people down the road to recovery?
Let us tell a different story. In Romania, with Monica Boseff, we met a survivor who has made incredible steps towards recovery. Through her own determination, and through the loving care of the Open Door Foundation staff, she has begun building a life of her own. In stories like hers, we see that there is hope.
Step by Step and Word by Word
We will call her Kayla. Trafficked and horribly abused for much of her life, she was rescued and originally cared for by Philip Hyldgaard’s A21 team in Greece. They arranged for her to be returned to Romania, where she came to live at the shelter run by the Open Door Foundation. She could not read. She was fully illiterate. As Monica put it, she didn’t know what the letter “A” looked like. She was 29 years old.
For three-and-a-half months a volunteer at the shelter sat with her every day for eight hours a day and taught her basic literacy. She taught her how to read and write, and Kayla took to this with a passion. She wanted to make up for wasted time. Wherever you would go around the shelter, you would find her with a book, painstakingly making out words. Her progress was unbelievable. She read voraciously, devouring any bit of knowledge she came across. She wanted to learn as much as she possibly could. In those three-and-a-half months she became literate, and within seven months she had progressed to the third grade in all her studies. Within another couple months she was at a fourth grade level, and she has progressed now to the fifth grade. If they needed to punish her for any reason, Monica said, they would just tell her that she was not allowed to read. That was punishment enough.
In our team’s few days at the shelter, we saw her constantly with her nose buried into a book. Sometimes it was the bible, but she also showed Monica her fourth-grade math book. In under a year, she had, with the help of a dedicated and loving team of people, resolutely turned a corner and ran down the road to recovery. What better things are to come?
The People who Make this Possible
The road to recovery from any type of exploitation is difficult and fraught with pitfalls. There is so much that can be against a person, from their background to the way in which they cope with their trauma. They desperately need love and support. They desperately need to know that they are valuable. They need people who are willing to give unconditionally, to lay down their lives to help them. Monica Boseff and Kristina Misiniene are both people who exemplify those values, who dedicate their time and their lives to helping women survive the after-effects of horrible exploitation.
Men and boys are also exploited sexually, as are transgender peoples. But, by and large, most survivors of sex trafficking are women. Women play a special role, then, in the healing process. Survivors of sex trafficking often have difficulty trusting men, who have so seriously abused and exploited them for their bodies. They will let women into their lives in a way that they will not let men. Because sex trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls, and because, as a result, women have a special place in the healing process, sex trafficking can be characterized as a women’s issue. As a point in case, many of the conversations about human trafficking grew out of the international women’s movement.
This is not to say that men and boys do not play an important role. One of the most heartbreaking and yet uplifting stories Monica Boseff shared with us was about the sheer incredulity that the residents of her shelter showed when a male guard made them breakfast. Part of the healing process for women survivors of sex trafficking is to learn that there are men out there who will fight for them, who respect them, and who will protect them, not abuse them. But this post provides a way to move into the theme of this blog for March: celebrating women TIP Heroes, in honor of International Women’s Day. More on this next week! Let us end with this: to the women around the world who fight for justice, who create policy focused on trafficking, or who help other women to heal from exploitation and abuse, we salute you.